For immediate release
June 16, 2021
Maryland—With 147,000 renter households in Maryland now facing eviction for non-payment of rent – an increase of over 25,000 families from census data six weeks prior – the CDC’s Eviction Order is set to expire on June 30, 2021. Thousands of Maryland families have used the CDC’s Eviction Order in District Court cases to prevent eviction since Sept. 4, 2020. In those cases the District Court has determined an amount due and owing as of the date of trial and “reserved judgment” until the expiration of the CDC Order. Numerous tenants and rent assistance programs have made payments since those “reserved judgments” were entered. Such payments should, in theory, prevent any eviction from moving forward. Yet, the Court now proposes to enter those eviction judgments automatically after the expiration of the CDC Order, i.e., July 1, and allow landlords to proceed with eviction without meaningful notice and an opportunity for the tenant to challenge the eviction.
On June 16, 2021, the Public Justice Center, Maryland State Bar Association Delivery of Legal Services Section, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Disability Rights Maryland, Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, Civil Justice, Inc., and CASA de Maryland, wrote to District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John Morrissey to express “grave concern” that the Court’s plan does not provide tenants a fair opportunity to dispute an eviction based on findings of rent due and owing from over nine (9) months ago. In their experience, tenants and rental assistance programs, which have received over $800 million in federal funds, have paid many of the rent amounts that were due:
Thousands if not tens of thousands of reserved judgments have been entered – some pursuant to the CDC Order, others pursuant to the Governor’s Order, and still others pursuant to both. Multiple reserved judgments have been entered among the same parties for different amounts and different months. Tenants have made numerous payments since those reserved judgments were entered. Rental assistance programs throughout the state have made significant payments on behalf of tenants that should satisfy such reserved judgments, and thus those reserved judgments should never be entered. Yet, the Court intends to proceed with automatically entering judgments for eviction based on evidentiary findings of the amount of rent due and owing from up to 9 months ago – without any meaningful notice or opportunity for the tenant to dispute such entry.
Instead, it appears that the Court intends to rely on a form of landlord honor system in which the landlord must merely send the Court a “Petition for Warrant of Restitution” under oath to claim that rent is still due and move forward with the eviction – a copy of which is not sent to the tenant. According to advocates, this creates “a process by which thousands of tenants who have reserved judgments may be facing eviction with little-or-no notice and no meaningful opportunity to dispute the landlord’s assertion that they still owe rent. This is a grave threat to due process for tenants facing the deprivation of their homes and likely homelessness.” Advocates have frequently seen landlords pursue eviction even though they’ve been paid by a rental assistance program: “Sometimes the landlord’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and sometimes it’s intentional,” according to Matt Hill, attorney at the Public Justice Center. He continued: “Whatever the cause, tenants need an opportunity to dispute the landlord’s assertion that rent is still due and owing from up to nine months ago.”
The Court’s proposed process will have a significant, disproportionate impact on persons of color. According to U.S. Census data, 78% of Maryland households facing eviction in the wake of COVID-19 are persons of color. The same Black and Brown communities that provided our “essential workers” during COVID-19 now also face the brunt of an unprecedented crisis of eviction and homelessness. This eviction crisis threatens to impede Maryland’s tentative economic recovery as potential workers who are suddenly homeless will find it even more difficult to obtain and retain employment. People with disabilities are also disproportionately rent burdened in Maryland and subject to the eviction crisis. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment not including utilities is $1,223 in Maryland while monthly SSI payments are only $783.
As an alternative to the Court’s proposal, advocates have proposed a process by which landlords must request in writing the entry of a judgment/warrant for a specific amount of rent still due and owing, send a copy of the request to the tenant and give the tenant 10 days to respond to the request before any judgment/warrant is entered. Such a process would provide at least minimal notice to the tenant that the landlord claims rent is still due and an eviction is pending. To avoid the worst consequences of a massive wave of evictions and chaos in the judicial system, advocates urge the Court to reconsider its plan.